by Katherine Khoo May 25, 2023 5 min read

Like us, our pups can suffer from gum disease. Dental problems in dogs often lead to the loss of teeth and appetite. It may even damage other organs if bacteria get into the bloodstream through diseased gums. As pet parents, we are concerned with our pups’ dental health and many of us will give dental chews as part of our pup’s daily teeth cleaning routine. But did you know that some of the very commonly advertised “oral health” products on the market are unsafe for our pets? Not all dental chews are created equal so using them comes with precautions. 

Dental Chew – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

How dog dental chews work

Chewing is the natural way for dogs to clean their teeth and dogs that chew actively have less plaque build-up. When a dog chews, his salivary glands are stimulated, and more saliva is produced and released into the mouth. The dog’s saliva has some amazing antibacterial properties, which in combination with the scrubbing effect from the dog chew, help to control the buildup of plaque, and therefore the development of periodontal disease. For a dental chew to be effective, it is important to select a chew that is appropriate for the size of your dog. Dog chews become ineffective if they are eaten too quickly and without much “chewing” effort. Some veterinarians recommend giving a dental chew that will last for at least 10 minutes for it to effectively clean your pup’s teeth.

Type of dental chews

There are a variety of dog dental treats that claim to reduce plaque and tartar and improve the dog’s breath. Some have voluntarily been tested and have received the VOHC seal of approval. VOHC which stands for the Veterinary Oral Health Council is an independent body set up by veterinary dentists to analyse these dental health claims critically and scientifically. You can use the VOHC approval seal as a guide when selecting a chew for your dog. Your vet can also give advice on which products are effective for your dog.  

Dental Chew – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Here are common dental chews that you’ll find in most pet stores:

Rawhide chews

These are made from the hides of cows or horses. Rawhide chews are often sold as oral health chews to reduce plaque and tartar. They come in different shapes and sizes. Rawhide chews are long-lasting and encourage active chewing. This makes rawhide an effective cleaner. However, we believe that rawhide chews are best avoided, especially if your pup is a very heavy chewer. Rawhides are not easily digested. Heavy chewers can break off large chunks of rawhide and if swallowed can pose a major choking hazard or cause intestinal blockage, and both are life-threatening events.

Dental hygiene chews

Whimzees and Greenies dental treats are examples of edible products approved by the VOHC. Do refer to the VOHC webpage for the list of VOHC-accepted products for dogs.

Please take note that not all dental hygiene chews are created equal. The ingredients used vary between the different brands. Do be mindful that some use wheat which contains gluten. If your pup has a sensitive stomach or is allergic to gluten, choose a gluten-free product.

Dental chews come in various sizes and shapes. Choosing the right size chews for your dog is important. Dog chews become ineffective if they are eaten too quickly. The chew will only be effective if your pup can chew on it for at least 10 minutes. Dental chews can come in various flavours too and for a picky dog, you may want to get a trial pack from Try & Buy before purchasing the full-size product.  

Dental Chew – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Raw bones

It might seem counter-intuitive, but raw bones can help clean your dog’s teeth and freshen their breath. But before you stock up on bones from the butcher, there are a few things to consider. There’s plenty of concern out there about bones, and some of it is justified. So, some ground rules when it comes to feeding raw bones:

  • Feed raw bones only. Cooked bones can splinter and cause injuries, either in your dog’s mouth or in his digestive system.
  • Feed the right size of the bone. Feeding bones that are too large and dense can cause cracked teeth as well, and bones that are too small can raise the risk of swallowing large pieces. Ideally, bones should be larger than your dog’s mouth, so they can’t take off big chunks.
  • All bone chewing time should be supervised. Dogs should never be left unsupervised with bones, or anything that they could break a tooth or choke on.

If your pup is not on a raw diet and you are concerned with feeding him fresh, raw bones, opt for raw, air-dried bones instead. We would suggest the ZIWI Peak Deer Hoofer Oral Health Chews For Dogs. This treat encourages plenty of chewing, providing your pup with mental stimulation and helping to clean his teeth. Another natural dental chew alternative that does not require you to go to the butcher for feed fresh, raw bones is the Sunrise Natural Dehydrated Yak Milk Chews. This all-natural, long-lasting chew is made with 100% dehydrated yak milk and does not contain lactose. As such, it is suitable for dogs of all ages – from teething pups to grown dogs.

Dog chew toys

Although not edible, chew toys such as this KONG Squeezz Dental Stick Dog Toy may be a good choice for dogs that chew through edible treats too quickly. Dog teeth cleaning toys often have raised nubs that work in between the teeth when a dog chews. These nubs scrape against the gum line to remove plaque and tartar, stimulate blood circulation, and promote strong, healthy gums.  

Dental Chew – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Take precautions with dental chews. Not all dental dog treats are created equal. Some are more effective or safe than others. Here are some pointers to consider when choosing a dental chew for your pup.

  • Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Acceptance. The VOHC ensures products that make the list have met their high scientific standards for proving the reduction of plaque and tartar.
  • Look at the ingredients and avoid any that your dog is sensitive to. If your pup is going to consume his dental chew regularly, it’s best to choose a dental chew made with high-quality natural ingredients to promote the health and wellbeing for your dog as well as keep their teeth clean.
  • Choose the proper size for your dog. The dog dental chew should match your dog’s mouth size to ensure optimal cleaning.
  • Choose according to your dog’s age. Puppies require different kinds of chews to help them with teething and senior dogs often require softer chews as their jaws and gums go weak with age. Thus, keeping the size and age of your dog in mind are important.  








Katherine Khoo
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.

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